The invisible floods, part three – this weekend

I’ve been calling them “invisible floods” because most Memphians haven’t even noticed that it’s flooding. This isn’t like the floods in Arkansas that are destroying homes and crops. Our local flooding is really quiet and unobtrusive.

I’ve been watching the rivers all week as I drive around town. Mostly, I watch the Wolf River creeping out of its banks along my drive home. It’s drowned a field, creeping along it day by day until the water’s lapping at the embankment at Whitney Ave, over half a mile from the river itself. One of the driveways to the sewage treatment plant is completely underwater and blocked off. The little dirt access road leading down to the Wolf River, by the bridge, is completely underwater. It’s really trippy to drive by, notice that the water’s moved in another 5′, and then realize the sheer volume of water that it takes to make that happen.

As far as I’ve been able to figure out, the tributaries (Wolf and Loosahatchie) are flooding because the Mississippi is too high. There’s so much water pressure, and the MS is so high, that the little rivers can’t properly drain, so they’re backing up and spilling their banks. The rivers are supposed to crest next weekend, so we’ve got at least another week of rising water!

But it’s not raining, nobody’s home is flooded, and no roads are flooded, so 99% of the city doesn’t even realize it’s flooding. So weird.

James and I saddled up our trusty horses (Champ and Handyman) and went out yesterday. We got to the usual point where we head off Millington into the trails and… stopped. The water was within 100′ of the road. It was flooded over a mile from the river. Last week, it was a quarter mile further away from the road. Even for us, the barn’s resident King and Queen of Stupid Riding, there was just no way we were going to take the horses through that.

So we explored up old Old Millington. Sometimes I call the road Millington Rd, because that’s what the maps and street signs call it, and sometimes I refer to it as Old Millington, because that’s what people call it. Before Hwy 51 was built, decades ago, Millington Rd took you to Millington. When the state built the fancy 4-lane highway, they closed down Millington Rd – that’s why it curves so sharply and “turns into” Overton Crossing. If you ride back in that area, it’s pretty obvious that there used to be a road. It’s a huge embankment, rising probably 50′ in the air in places, running vaguely NE. We go over it on one trail, then curve around the end of the embankment, where the river bridge would’ve started, in the woods on a different section of trail. Here’s the satellite map – the really straight line running straight NE is the railroad embankment, and the curvier line going ENE is the old road bed.

I’ve explored different sections of the road, but we hadn’t started at the beginning before. There really wasn’t anywhere else to ride yesterday, so we tried it out. We had to get off and break away some muscadine vines to get started, but once we got on the road it was pretty smooth going. And pretty neat – the road bed was probably 10′ above the surrounding forest, and there was water on either side as far as we could see. We only rode maybe 1/3 of a mile, half a mile at the most, before we came to a smaller bridge-that-was-no-more. The road just stopped, with some concrete piers on either side of a 20′ gap. Right as we came out of the woods, back onto the paved road, it started raining.

I hung out at the barn the rest of the afternoon but didn’t ride again. I took pity on the horses and put them up – they were standing at the gate practicing their “I’m wet and pitiful” looks. Poppy ate all of his grain then immediately laid down for a nap. There is nothing as big and cute as a curled-up sleepy Percheron. Champ glared out the window, acting like he hadn’t been demanding to come inside. The girls quietly munched hay and looked out their windows.

One of the barn cats had kittens – first ones of the year. She’s a black cat, two years old, who had kittens once late last summer. She didn’t know what to do with the first batch – she had them under my wheelbarrow, then decided to move them but got confused halfway and left them in the sun… where they died. It was so sad, even though they were the epitome of unwanted kittens. I was there the whole time that day. I saw the kittens under the wheelbarrow, still wet from being born, and I thought “that’s a really terrible place to have your kittens, little momma cat.” I didn’t want to freak her out by moving them, so I just stayed away from the back of the barn for a couple of hours. When I went back there again – they were dead in the sun. :(

Anyway, nobody ever got around to having her spayed. She’s figured it out this time, and she had three little kittens in a safe spot somewhere. Yesterday she moved them into the Poseys’ feed room, where James found them. James has an irrational phobia about very small kittens. They give him the heebiejeebies when they’re tiny. These little fluffballs had just opened their eyes and he couldn’t bear to touch them, even though he needed to put some hay right where they were, so he came and got me. I made them a nest box in a milk crate, lined with hay and an old sweater, and put the box off to the side in the same feed room. Momma cat stayed with me the whole time I had them, but she didn’t seem to mind me touching them. I showed her where the kittens were and left them alone. One black, one tiger-grey, and one grey and white.

There’s a new boarder at the barn who works for Animal Control, so hopefully she’ll get all the female cats spayed this year. It’s so cuuuute to see tiny little kittens… but so sad, when you know they’ll just catch FeLV and live out their sick short lives at a barn. :(

Dry interlude – last week

Monday I rode Quinn again – just around the property, practicing standing still. The first time I mounted took some convincing. We had to back up and woah several times before she remember that I’m a slow human and I want her to stand still for more than a second, but after that she was fine. I think I got on, did a lap, and got off five times.

Tuesday or maybe Wednesday I trimmed Champ’s hooves. I know I should take pictures, but I keep forgetting! I rolled the edges, took his heels down in front a little bit, and took his inside heels down in the back. I’m doing this based on a discussion on barefoothorsecare about this article. I haven’t tried finding the acupressure point because I can clearly see that Champ’s inside rears are high. I’ve been working on them for two trims now – he’s really cowhocked and base-narrow and I really don’t want to change things too fast and hurt him!

Champ’s a lot of fun to trim because he will let you know exactly how he feels about what you’re doing. He doesn’t really approve of me rolling the edges of his hooves, but it’s just standard Champ grumpiness, not true disapproval. If I try to do anything more than just rasping the edges, you can just tell that he thinks I’m going to fuck it up. He radiates uncertainty until I give his foot back, then he tests it out. Flops his lips around and shifts his weight and thinks about what I’ve done. If he’s ok with it, I’ll keep going on the other feet. If he thinks I’m really making a mistake, he’ll try to take his foot back from me. He is actually a perfect gentleman most of the time, so if he wants his foot back he always gets it.

Anyway, he was deeply unsure about me taking the nippers to his back feet. I trimmed his back right inside heel down, and he was all “What the hell are you doing woman!” Once I’d finished with it, there was lots of shifting his weight around and flopping his lips and cocking one heel, then the other. He grudgingly gave me the left rear to do the same to, then went through the same ridiculous series of motions when I’d finished it. But after he’d squirmed and smacked, he was standing with his back legs much further apart. I’d call that a success.

The invisible floods, part two – Sunday

But Sunday was definitely memorable! Sunday we went back out with Champ and Handyman. The whole weekend was warm, but Sunday was really nice – high in the 70s. On our way to the trails, we noticed that the usually-locked gate was still unlocked! Back down the trails, all the way down the field to the river, and back south along the river. Once we got to the river, Champ snapped out of his “oh god my feet are getting wet” funk and decided he was Taking Us Home. Obviously the humans are not to be trusted to get us home, or something. We trotted and gaited through the puddles to the river, and I barely had a chance to ooooh over the height of the river (bank-high when it’s usually 20′ below the banks!) before Champ sailed past Handyman, took a hard left, and headed for home. He’d finally figured out where he was or something. We went ripping through the forest trail.

Going down forested trails at top speed is really one of my favorite scary things to do, and I don’t get to do it that often. Champ is the only horse I trust to be surefooted and responsive enough, and I won’t scare whomever I’m riding with. That means that if I’m out with Chrissy, or some random “take me trail riding!” person, I can’t go fast. But if I’m riding Champ with James – we can tear ass as fast as we want. That day, it meant “no trotting in the water, no cantering unless you can get three full strides before we have to slow down again.”

We dashed through the forest part of the trail and popped out of the woods at the railroad bridge. A train was slowly pulling away over the bridge, and we got to wave to the engineers in the engine at the end before we were off at a canter down the straight path through along the tracks. Champ and I are never going to get this jumping thing figured out – we came up on this fallen log that we usually jump, I leaned way forward for him to jump it, and the bastard just cantered over it. We made it about halfway down the length of the trail before we ran into some serious flooding.

I was pretty sure Champ would slow down and give me the “WTF?” ears when he saw all that water on top of his trail, but he surprised me and kept going. We plunged off into the water without a moment’s hesitation. I let him keep going because he wasn’t panicked and I knew where the trail was and that it’s a safe trail. The worst potholes are only a few inches deep.

We saw a TON of those ant balls you normally only see on National Geographic. Imagine a British guy explaining that “when the colony is threatened by flooding, the ants cling to each other and float away in a giant ball.” They looked like normal tiny black ants, not vicious evil army ants or fire ants, but I kept Champ well away from them anyway. Running into a clump of pissed off fire ants would be a nightmare that would really get us hurt.

Champ learned a new trick in that water. The water was deep. Really deep. Champ’s 15.2 or 15.3, and the water was all the way up to the soles of my (rubber) boots. This kind of water is annoying to my horse because it makes him go slow when he wants to go fast, so he learned to bounce through the water. You know how when a Lab is heading off full speed into a pond to retrieve a tennis ball, he runs to the edge, leaps off into the water, bounces like Tigger through the shallows til he can’t touch bottom anymore, then swims to the ball? Yeah, Champ learned to bounce like Tigger. It was hysterically funny and hard as shit to ride – if I didn’t stay two-point, the force of the leaps would send my ass like 6″ above the saddle. I had to control my giggling and actually grab his mane to stay put.

We made it to within 50 feet of the only bridge on that section of the trail when we gave up and turned around. We couldn’t see the bridge at all through the water, and the creek it usually spanned had vertical 6’+ sides. Riding a horse off the edge of that would have been Very Bad. James and I are admittedly stupid, but we’re not quite that stupid.

So back we went. Champ was really pissed – he was perfectly willing to keep going and maybe miss the bridge and have to swim. I used the Logical Reasoning Executive Veto and back up the trail we went. We slogged back to the end of the water and there was a puppy. A small young yellow dog, a little smaller than Cersei. (Cersei stayed at the barn for all of these rides; asking her to swim miles and miles is not fair.) James was in the lead at this point and for some reason he decided the best way to potentially catch the puppy would be to chase the puppy, so off we all went. James and Handyman took off after the puppy and of course Champ wasn’t going to let some other horse run faster than him so we took off too. We ran the entire quarter mile of mostly dry trail. The puppy took a right, swam across a stream, and disappeared over the old roadbed. Can’t say I blame the poor little guy. I felt bad for chasing him – I’m sure we looked like monsters from another planet to him! I’m hoping maybe I can find him again and tame him. James would take him home I know!

Anyway, we were back at the river by the railroad bridge. We could go right and work our way back out the same way we came in, or we could go left, down the trail on the other side of the RR, turn towards the highway, and then take a left and get out onto Millington via the usually-locked gate. Getting the horses through all the water on the trail to the left would usually be a challenge – but today they didn’t seem to mind the water at all. We went left.

Champ had gotten over his sulk and was ready to go again, so we tore ass through the forest again. We popped out of the woods at the end of the pipeline road. This is normally a place where we can let the horses gallop for miles – fast, straight, and dry. Today it was just straight. The floodwater started about 50′ from where we came out of the woods. The horses plunged right in, and off we went.

We saw two buffalo fish, easily 18″ long, fighting or fucking in the shallows at the edge of the trail. If we’d had nets, we could’ve caught them.

The little bridge we needed to cross on that side of the tracks was fortunately above water. It was the only piece of land, aside from the RR embankment, for miles around that was above water. (It’s one of those built-up bridges, where the road builders made a dirt mountain on either side of the creek then built a bridge off of the dirt mountain.) On the other side of the bridge, the water started to get really deep. It had been maybe two feet deep most of the way so far, with the deepest water coming up to the soles of my boots. Once we crossed the bridge, it got a lot deeper. The water came up over my feet, with splashes of water soaking me up to mid-thigh. We made the turn to head out to the unlocked gate, and the water came up over the tops of my boots.

I just need to say this again – the water came to mid-calf on me as I rode my 15.3 horse a mile from the river. I don’t know how much water it takes to float a horse, but I’m pretty sure if it had been a few inches deeper, Champ would’ve been swimming. He was really buoyant as it was. Also, I will never believe my horse again when he tries to convince me he’s scared of the water.

We made it out of the water safe and sound. We had to stop twice on the way back for people in cars to talk to us – the first guy just wanted us to please call the MPD if we saw a gold-beige Ford Explorer with both door locks punched in, and the second guy was a boarder at the barn just saying hey. James and Handyman almost got smacked by a pickup. We saw the truck coming, and Champ and I stayed in the opposite lane near the edge while James and Handyman moved off into the grass on the other side of the road. Except Handyman saw an invisible monster and leapt sideways directly into the path of the truck. James was cussin and yankin and kicking, and the truck slammed on his brakes, and we all waved at each other with a huge sense of relief. Handyman’s supposed to be a runnin’ QH but I suspect he’s half-Arab – he’s spooky and he has a really pretty little Arab head.

We avoided any further brushes with death that day.

The invisible floods – part one, Friday and Saturday

It’s been a long time since I updated, but I had a hell of a week last week…

Anyway, last weekend I rode like mad. On Friday, Stephen had to go to Arkansas for that silly artist lady, so I had the day off work. I wanted to take Quinn – of course she was a beast about standing still. I asked James to help and he spent about 15 minutes working with her (doing the exact same thing I’d been doing!) and somehow she learned that we want her to stand still for the clumsy human to climb on. That man’s a horse whisperer. Robert Redford has nothing on him. Anyway, after he got her to stand, I was able to get her to stand and climb on and off we went! We just rode around the bean field. The path by the little lake is entirely too flooded, and I was scared to ride her across the highway on a Friday afternoon. Then we went back and swapped horses.

I took Champ and James took Handyman, and we crossed the highway and rode down Millington Road. There’s a little gravel road that leads, in a roundabout way, from Millington back to the trails, but it’s usually blocked off by a gate at Millington. (And they’re serious about it too – it’s a gate with a fence on either side, not just the usual “gate with some posts on either side to stop 4-wheelers”) The gate was open! We rode past it, to our usual turn-in, and went exploring. The water was higher than the week before, but still quite passable in the big fields. We ended up on some little trail-loops that we don’t usually go down because they don’t go very far.

Last Saturday I took Quinn out. She stood for me to get on! Pretty well! I did get off and back on once at the beginning of the ride, and about five times after we got back. Anyway, it was Saturday morning and not much traffic on the highway, so we headed across the street. Quinn did not bolt or back into traffic, and we did not die, which was a huge relief. The gate I mentioned before was still open! We went past it to our usual entrance.

The usual entrance is at a sharp bend in the road. I think it’s where Millington stops and Overton Crossing begins. There’s a pretty obvious old road bed running north – back when Millington Road would take you to Millington – but the paved road turns 90 degrees and heads back east. The 4-wheelers also use the old road bed to access the trails, so somebody sank a bunch of those steel-and-concrete posts to stop them. Posts stop 4-wheelers, but they only slow down horses. We have to dismount and lead the horses through the gap (it’s just wide enough for a horse, not a horse plus a pair of legs) but we can still get through.

I’m usually pretty observant, but I didn’t notice the fresh 4-wheeler tracks. James did, and he was the one who realized that there had to be another way in or out. Turns out an intrepid four wheeler guy had carved a new path through the dormant kudzu about 50 feet to the north of the usual path. Yay, no more dismounting!

Anyway, the 4-wheeler guy didn’t get very far. The water was halfway up the first field. We had a nice slow long ride anyway, slogging through water that didn’t get much deeper than 2 feet. Honestly, I can’t remember exactly where we went, because it’s been a week and it must not have been that memorable. Unlike Sunday!

Champ the Obnoxious

It’s supposed to rain today. It’s been supposed to rain ALL day, actually – they keep moving the actual storm time back, but it’s looked like rain and been windy and cloudy all day. It’s a lovely day otherwise – it’s still 74 degrees out right now.

So of course I wanted to ride. I got to the barn about 4:30 and waited for James – he made it at 5 and we saddled up and headed out. I was on Champ and he was on Handyman (the little speed QH) because I said I wanted to run. It was quite windy and warm, and the horses just knew that monsters lurked around the corners. They were both doing their best wild-horse imitations – heads up, ears up, bouncing around, halfheartedly wanting to bolt.

We were prancing through a little belt of trees, with Champ acting like he was too busy looking for wolves to bother noticing the trees. I talk to Champ all the time just like he’s a human, because he responds well to it. Some days I think he knows a lot of English, and some days I think he just reacts to the tone of my voice. Anyway, we’re prancing along and all of a sudden there’s two logs at our feet, half-buried in the leaves! I didn’t do anything with my hands or legs, but I said “Champ, god dammit, watch out for those damn logs before you break your damn leg.” (I cuss him all the time too.) Champ immediately slowed down, stepped very carefully over the logs, rotated one ear back at me like “See? I knew those logs were there!” and then started prancing again.

I couldn’t do anything but laugh and be kind of amazed at my too-smart horse.